Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

BRIAN GANZ plays an all-Chopin recital in Santa Cruz. (See review of a new Chopin biography below*.) MONTEREY SYMPHONY hosts acclaimed flutist Carol Wincenc. SANTA CRUZ COUNTY YOUTH ORCHESTRA features soloist Xander Lee (pictured) at UCSC Music Hall; program includes world premiere of Hawwah for Korean instruments and orchestra. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET opens at Mountain Community Theater. BODYTRAFFIC contemporary dance company from LA at CSUMB’s World Theater. ARIA WOMEN’S CHOIR sings music about women. For links to these and other live performance events, click our CALENDAR or on the ads, left.

NICO MUHLY’S MARNIE

TWO METROPOLITAN OPERA ‘ENCORE’ TELECASTS TOMORROW, WED, NOV 14, 1PM & 6:30PM, CENTURY CINEMAS, DEL MONTE CENTER, AND REGAL CINEMA, PACIFIC AVE., SANTA CRUZ.  Read Alex Ross’s review, ‘Escaping Hitchcock,’ of this new production HERE  

FRYDERYK CHOPIN: A LIFE AND TIMES

*ALAN WALKER publishes a ‘magisterial’ new biography. Click HERE  

MONTEREY COUNTY GIVES

ONE OF THE GREAT SUCCESS STORIES for non-profits in Monterey County is the partnership between the Monterey County Weekly newspaper and the Community Foundation for Monterey County that benefits 169 non-profits in Monterey County, including 34 listed under Arts & Culture. Matching grants and challenge gifts make all these ‘boats’ rise with the ‘tide.’ Contributions are receivable through December 31.  

INEXPLICABLE AND INEXCUSABLE

PAMB’S CALENDAR this week is loaded with performances of live music and theater, including performances at Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz. But where are all the high schools whose performances and productions just now culminate their fall semesters? Or, to put it another way: just try to find them. The fact is those music, dance and theater programs simply don’t bother to notify the media. Are Carmel High, Harbor High, Monterey High, Pacific Grove High, Monte Vista Christian High, Notre Dame High, Aptos High, Santa Cruz High, Watsonville High, Seaside High, Salinas High, Stevenson High in Pebble Beach too ashamed of their students’ efforts to use the media? The Western Stage at Hartnell takes care of itself, but other performance events at Hartnell are kept totally under wraps. Same with CSU Monterey Bay. Same with Monterey Peninsula College, except for its theater company. Virtually all high schools, public and private, in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties have completely failed to service a media mailing list, even if they have one. Most inexplicable of all is the Millennium Charter High School at Sherwood Hall and the Monterey County Office of Education which has touted itself as a performing arts high school. How hard can it be to maintain and use a mailing list? Or, as suggested above, is the real reason those of us willing to spread the word are kept in the dark. (PS Thank you Santa Catalina School.)  

ELSA CON, 1949-2018

PHILIP PEARCE joined theater colleagues to remember and celebrate this remarkable and determined stage personality. To read his remembrances, click HERE

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND

ESPECIALLY FINNISH CELTIC at the BBC Proms.

 

A STRANGER IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM

WALT DISNEY AND DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, 29 October, 1959.

 

COMPOSER ALMA DEUTSCHER

ONE YEAR AGO, at age 12, she played her own violin concerto with Symphony Silicon Valley. Here she performs it in July 2017 along with the premiere of her Piano Concerto in E-flat, with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra at the Carinthischer Sommer Festival. She’s now 13 and brilliantly talented with masterful compositional technique, if plainly derivative of 19th century middle European models. If she’s to outgrow her prodigious youth as a composer she will need to be guided into the 21st century. Otherwise, her reputation will ultimately depend on her talents as a performer, which are formidable. Here are both works.

 

RHAPSODY IN BLACK

THE LIFE and music of Roy Orbison. By John Kruth.

HE WAS BLESSED WITH a set of pipes that Elvis Presley claimed were the best in the business. His eyes hidden behind his perpetual Ray-Bans, Roy Orbison stood perfectly still onstage, singing songs of devastating heartbreak. Bob Dylan compared him to a professional killer, claiming the intensity of Orbison’s operatic tenor was enough to make him “drive off a cliff.” Neil Young stated, “It’s almost impossible to comprehend the depth of his soul. There’s something sad but proud about Roy’s music.” And Bono later claimed he was not only enthralled by Orbison’s “angelic voice,” but considered “In Dreams” to be “probably the greatest pop song ever written.” Orbison’s singing has inspired everyone who has heard it, from Springsteen to k. d. lang, and laid the very foundation for goth. While fascinating from a pop culture standpoint, it is Orbison’s life’s journey that makes a great story that has yet to be told to its fullest. Rhapsody in Black doesn’t shy away from or trivialize the personal pain, alienation, and tragic events that shaped Orbison’s singular personality and music. Roy Orbison wasn’t merely a singer but a sonic alchemist who, in the end, transformed unfathomable human misery into transcendent melody and platinum records. Rhapsody in Black contains interviews with over 20 people who worked closely with Orbison throughout his life.

IT WAS

CHELY WRIGHT, loved in Nashville for all the right reasons, then hated in Nashville for righteously hypocritical ones.

 

FRESH REVIEWS

SUDS at the Colligan in Santa Cruz, and THE DROWSY CHAPERONE in Salinas. Click HERE

SOPRANO CA JORDAN with Santa Cruz Chamber Players. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

RAY BROWN QUINTET with Eddie Mendenhall at Kuumbwa. BRUCE HORNSBY plays Carmel. COMEDIAN DANIEL TOSH in Monterey. TANDY BEAL’S JOY! at UCSC. SPECTACULAR VARIETY SHOW at Hidden Valley.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

The Drowsy Chaperone

By Philip Pearce

SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO a show called Oklahoma! taught us that musicals should be relevant, logical and true to life. But that hasn’t stopped producers and audiences from looking back and affectionately spoofing those venerable pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein song and dance fantasies that were about as socially significant as a cheese soufflé.

Even as I write, Jewel Theatre is cheerfully sending up the sixties (minus the politics and protests) in a confection called Suds. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Boy Friend have offered playgoers clever pastiches of the kind of mindless melodic fluff that filled Broadway theaters back in Prohibition days.   

The Drowsy Chaperone, which has just opened a four weeks’ run at The Western Stage in Salinas, goes those shows one better. It doesn’t just imitate a 1928 fun and flappers musical. It serves it up garnished with wry and informed comments on the razzle-dazzle period quirks and clichés in what’s happening on stage while it’s up there happening. 

Our commentator and guide is a musical theater enthusiast known simply as The Man in Chair. He starts out as a voice talking in the dark about how an audience feels waiting in the dark for the stage lights to come up on a show. When they do come up, sure enough, there’s the chair and there he sits ready to chat us up and lead us through the ins and outs of the performance. A rumpled charmer with lots of theatrical smarts he’s identified in the program as David Norum. 

Beside his chair there’s an old-time record player and he tells us he’s going to feed it a digitally re-mastered LP of an old Broadway song and dance hit. And as the record spins, the stage will fill with the characters, props, costumes and frothy activity of a 1928 musical called, you guessed it, The Drowsy Chaperone.

Sure enough, as the record rolls, we meet the lithe and delectable Heather Osteraa as glamorous Janet Van de Graaff who’s abandoning Broadway stardom to marry eligible millionaire Robert Martin. She’s adamant that matrimony means an end to all of her theatrical “Showing Off,” an assertion she makes by singing and dancing her way through a song of that name in an extended glitzy production number in which she does nothing if not show off.       

As her fiancé Robert, Kyle Richlin wins top athletic honors of the evening by agreeing it’s bad luck for a groom to see his bride on their wedding day, so he spends the pre-wedding hours tap dancing, socializing and roller skating around while wearing a blindfold. 

Scott Free blusters and chews his cigar like Edward Arnold in the role of a Broadway producer named Feldzieg (get it?). He’s got a dumb blonde girlfriend named Kitty (Niki Moon, all energy and bafflement) who is perpetually waiting in the wings for her Ruby Keeler big moment in the spotlight. Feldzieg ignores or distracts her, obsessed with the shock of losing a million dollar show-biz investment like Janet to mere matrimony. He connives with a couple of comedy gangsters right out of Kiss Me Kate, played by Eric Wishnie and Noah Esquivel, to sabotage the Martin/Van de Graaff nuptials. 

They hire an allegedly irresistible Latin lover named Aldolpho, played with explosive erotic determination by the amazing Justin Gaudoin, to seduce the bride on her wedding morning. Trouble is, Janet’s boudoir is currently occupied by her drowsy chaperone dozing on the bed and the mentally challenged Aldolpho mistakes the chaperone for the bride. 

In a performance where the Western Stage cast, apart from David Norum, all portray 1920s actors who in turn have parts in The Drowsy Chaperone, Jen Brooks is all Theda Bara vampery in the title role. But the portrayer of Janet’s slinky chaperone turns out to be a legendary Broadway diva whose legend is beginning to sag. So her encounters with Janet are played with a nice subtext of politely bitchy efforts to upstage this upstart Broadway idol. Complicated enough for you? It takes the guiding hand of that man in the chair to make your way through this witty script.     

Everything happens at the classy estate of a moneyed socialite named Mrs. Tottendale. Mindy Pedlar is a ditzy delight as a vague lady rescued from blunders by an untiring butler named Underling, acted with a lot of Arthur Treacher panache by Ron Perez. Together, these two perform a couple of those vapid, purportedly comic routines supporting cast members are forced to go through out front by the footlights while stars and stagehands are busy behind the big drop curtain setting up for the next big upstage musical number.  

True to American musical tradition, almost everyone with a speaking part ends up married to someone else with a speaking part. The exceptions are those two comedy gangsters and Robert’s delightfully frantic best man George (Sarah Horn), who anticipates every detail except hiring a minister. To the rescue comes jodhpured Jaqui Hope’s swaggering Trix the Aviatrix. She agrees to act like a ship’s captain authorized to solemnize marriages if everyone will just climb aboard her plane and say “I Do, I Do in the Sky.”   

Manipulating the show through an LP record is a theatrically brilliant idea on the part of its creators Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison, Bob Martin and Don McKellar. It means Norum’s ingratiating character can halt things while he wants to make a point and start them up again when he’s finished making it. At least that’s what is supposed to happen. The recording apparatus does occasionally strike back, notably when everybody on stage suddenly starts to lurch to and fro repeating the same split second’s worth of dialogue over and over again because the LP needle is stuck in a faulty groove.   

Under some astute direction from Jon Patrick Selover and Joe Niesen, the cast manage these and other tricky moves with deft timing and impressive comic assurance.  

The fact that what happens on stage always depends on a phonograph record also produces, at the start of Act 2, the funniest and most elaborately staged joke I have ever seen played on an unsuspecting audience. But you’re going to have to buy a ticket and see this wonderful show to find out about that.   

It plays weekends on the Hartnell Mainstage through December 8th, with a “re ACTIONS” audience feed-back session with cast and creative crew after the November 25th matinee.